Joseph O’Brien hoping top three-year-olds can bounce back at Royal Ascot

Thunder Moon and Pretty Gorgeous both failed to fire in big Guineas races

Joseph O’Brien is hopeful Royal Ascot can prove a happier hunting ground for his top three-year-olds after a frustrating Guineas campaign this month.

The Group One -winning colt Thunder Moon ran a shocker in the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas when finishing last behind Poetic Flare.

The Group One-winning filly Pretty Gorgeous missed Newmarket on the back of an unsatisfactory scope and subsequently failed to fire when favourite for Sunday’s Irish 1,000 Guineas.

She has an option of going for next month’s French Oaks but is more likely to stick at a mile for Royal Ascot’s Coronation Stakes.


Thunder Moon will try to redeem his reputation in the St James’s Palace Stakes after completely fluffing his lines at Newmarket.

That was the National Stakes winner’s first race of the season and O’Brien is prepared to put a line through it.

“Nothing came to light after the race but he did get quite upset beforehand. He got quite colty so maybe on his first run back he was just a bit fresh. We’ll put a line through it and regroup. The St James’s Palace is the plan,” he said on Tuesday.

Pretty Gorgeous started a 15-8 favourite at the Curragh on Sunday but a wide draw left her on racing on the outside of the field and after briefly threatening to take a hand in the finish she ultimately faded to seventh behind Empress Josephine.

“We are probably looking at the Coronation. She was wide, and even though she was pretty fit for a comeback run, a mile on heavy ground is a long way up the Curragh. So I wasn’t too disheartened,” O’Brien added.

The former champion jockey will hope for better Derby luck when his outsider Southern Lights lines up at Epsom on Saturday week.

Bookmakers generally rate the son of Sea The Stars as a 40-1 chance for a race his trainer won twice as a rider.

Southern Lights broke his maiden at Leopardstown and didn’t enjoy a clear run when subsequently beating only one home in the Derrinstown Trial behind the Derby favourite Bolshoi Ballet.

O'Brien has opted to skip Sunday's €250,000 Group One Prix D'Ispahan at Longchamp with his two entries, Patrick Sarsfield and Baron Samedi.

The Ballydoyle runner, Armory, an impressive winner at Chester earlier this month, also holds an entry in the nine and half furlong highlight.

O’Brien is on the verge of reaching €500,000 in prizemoney for the domestic Flat season and will hope Gowran Park can pass an 8.0am morning inspection on Wednesday.

His half dozen entries include Faron who is bred to cope with testing conditions while Dilawara, twice a winner in France, makes her Irish debut under topweight in a handicap.

La Petite Coco’s defeat of Belle Image at Killarney reads even better considering the latter’s fourth-placed effort in Sunday’s Guineas.

Paddy Twomey’s runner has a pair of 92 rated opponents in a nine-furlong conditions event but she looks notably progressive.

In other news the Mark Johnston-trained Gear Up is on course to line up in the Derby despite a lack-lustre effort behind Hurricane Lane in the Dante earlier this month.

Connections of the colt who won the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud as a two-year-old believe an extra quarter mile will be to Gear Up’s advantage.

“Although he’s a 33-1 shot, he deserves his place in the line up as a Group One-winning two-year-old and it would be no surprise to see him finish in the money,” said Johnston’s son and assistant, Charlie.

“I don’t think he needs that kind of severe testing ground on which he won his Group One. It is more the fact it inconveniences other horses. The extra test of stamina will suit and we expect him to be a strong stayer at a mile and a half,” he added.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column